Pharmaceutical companies have started experiencing delays in deliveries of vaccines and their components due to the EU’s export control mechanism, EU industry boss Nathalie Moll has said.
“We are losing time already; we don’t see a need for this at all. It just slows us down at the moment,” Moll, the Director-General of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), told Portuguese journal Expresso.
In response to the row with British-Swedish pharma group AstraZeneca over delays in vaccine deliveries, the EU decided to establish a mechanism to limit the export of vaccines produced on EU territory and even block them in case they are not legitimate.
Moll said the fact that they have to notify the exports and get authorisation, even if it is just up to five days, is causing significant delays.
“We don’t believe it was necessary, we think it was a concerning message to the rest of the world,” she told Expresso, adding it is now up to EU member states to handle it and make sure that no time is lost in moving vaccines and components.
She said companies were already working together to ramp up production and called on governments to facilitate this process: “There is nothing more we need today”.
WHO Europe director Hans Kluge told AFP in an interview it’s high time Europe and pharma groups worked together to ramp up production. “We need to join up to speed up vaccinations,” he said.
Components: the next challenge
Another key challenge is the raw materials and components needed for the production of vaccines.
“We need to protect our global supply chains to make sure that nothing threatens that, because different components of a vaccine not all come from Europe, they come from different parts of the world,” Moll said.
In an interview with several European media, EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen warned that Europe may be faced with shortages.
“There will certainly be other obstacles, other problems in production, and we must also prepare for possible shortages of raw materials or certain components of these vaccines,” von der Leyen said.
The EU pharma industry warned last week that the EU export control mechanism could result in retaliation measures against the bloc from other parts of the world, which produce key components of vaccines.
The patent question
In order to speed up production, some lawmakers have called for radical measures.
In the European Parliament, a group of socialist lawmakers have sent a letter to the European Commission on Wednesday (3 February) urging the EU executive to explore ways of suspending patents for COVID-19 vaccines.
In their letter, seen by EURACTIV, EU lawmakers describe the suspension of patents as a “moral imperative”.
“Of course, we are perfectly aware of the reasons for some resistance linked to support for ‘intellectual property rights’, such as legal assets and tools to provide adequate incentives for companies to invest in research and development,” the MEPs said.
“Nevertheless, we believe that these instances fail to consider that many of the pharmaceutical companies, which developed vaccines against COVID-19, received enormous public resources from the EU and the member states,” they add.
However, both the Commission and the pharma industry do not see this proposal in a positive light.
The industry says there is no need for such a measure considering that the companies are already collaborating among each other while the Commission insists on the need to preserve innovation through the protection of intellectual property rights.
“Vaccine developers retain their intellectual property rights,” an EU Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV Germany.
“For many decades, publicly funded research programs have provided for beneficiary companies and universities to retain their intellectual property,” the spokesperson said.
And publicly funded research already enjoys “broad access” to research data, the EU official added.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]